Even though no one’s come right out and said it yet, I’m pretty sure the reason Cinespia’s summer movie screenings at Hollywood Forever Cemetery are so rad is because the operation is put on by native Angelenos.
Sure, there are plenty of other factors contributing to the all-around wonderfulness of the Hollywood Forever film screening experience. For starters, there’s the setting — a lush, gorgeous, storied Hollywood cemetery marked by soft green grass, clusters of cypress trees, palm trees and Douglas Fairbanks’ tomb, to say nothing of the thousands of gravestones, which are themselves accessorized with fresh flowers, potted succulents and the occasional stuffed animal or dangling rosary.
There’s the well-curated assortment of classic films (Harold and Maude, Goonies, Grindhouse and the upcoming Best Picture winner It Happened One Night), which the Cinespia folks screen against the side of the cemetery's massive white mausoleum. There’s the kick-ass sound system. The open sky. The mysterious white orbs that tend to appear each summer in photographs people take during the screenings.
There’s even a cute deejay girl spinning a pitch-perfect assortment of swinging 1960s classics while 4,000 moviegoers trickle their way into the “theater,” picnic baskets, blankets and beach chairs in tow.
“Want some, Dani?” asks the cool mom to my left, extending a plastic cup filled with red wine my way.
Jill introduced herself as soon as her clan plopped down next to me. Matt, her husband, is an avid reader. It’s their girls’ first time here, and they’re really into John Lennon. I’ve known the family for all of five minutes, and we’re already in love.
“Sure,” I beam, taking the cup of booze from Jill’s hands as she offers me an affectionate upper-arm squeeze.
God bless community.
“It’s what makes the screenings so special,” purports John Wyatt, who conceived of the whole let’s-watch-movies-in-the-graveyard concept 14 years ago, and has been facilitating the events ever since, “the coming together of so many people — so many different kinds of people.”
Wyatt, an L.A. native, is right. The at-capacity audience (every Hollywood Forever Cinespia screening has sold out for the past year) is as diverse as they come, encompassing all races, leanings, nationalities, generations, aesthetic sensibilities and socioeconomic categorizations.
Tonight’s crowd is gathered for A Hard Day's Night, the 1964 British comedy directed by Richard Lester and starring The Beatles, which Time magazine ranked as one of the 100 greatest films of all time; it's widely seen as one of the most influential musicals ever, credited as the birth of the music video.
All this is to say we’re not here to see just some random “movie” — no, we are here to partake of cinematic history, on the grass, under the stars, surrounded by dead people. (And later in the summer, expect a different sort of historical footnote when Apocalypse Now is shown. According to Wyatt, “This will mark the first time Apocalypse Now has been shown outdoors in the U.S. To see it the way it was meant to be seen, on the big screen with a large audience, will be a momentous occasion.”)
And I gotta say, lounging against a stack of ikat pillows, peering past two bearded hipster dudes playing Frisbee as a woman dressed like Yoko Ono and a dude wearing a black suit and a skinny tie hightail it to the photo booth — where folks are lining up to have their pictures taken in the geometric, Mod-a-rific set designed and built specifically for this evening’s screening — this whole community thing is kind of amazing.
Heart-warming. Encouraging. Delightful, even.
“How’s being back in L.A.?” I overhear the 40-something dude behind me ask the hippie woman sitting on his blanket, as he cradles a smoldering glass pipe between his palms.
“It’s aligned,” she shrugs, helping herself to an olive. “I’m a little concerned about the drought. And I don’t love the crowds, the rent hikes or the douche factor. But, I’m definitely supposed to be here.”
“Yeah,” he nods, dragging deeply on his pipe. “The douche factor.”
It’s decidedly absent from the venue — the douche factor, that is.
No one’s here to be seen, or show off, or land a reality show, or buy a sweet Mount Washington bungalow only to tear it down, put up a thoughtless three-story monstrosity and then rent it out on Airbnb for a trillion times the typical neighborhood rent.
It’s just a big bunch of people stoked to be hanging out under the clear blue sky, jazzed for their turn to hold a hand-painted sign that reads “I Heart Ringo!” and leap for joy when the shutter snaps. And thrilled to see The Beatles (before they blew up to icon/awakened-prophet status) being silly and brilliant and amazing, their huge yet pristine images projected upon the outer wall of the pale mausoleum as the night darkens.
I chalk it up to the fact that Cinespia’s full-time four-person staff and a good chunk of the event crew is comprised of all-native Angelenos, because the natives are the ones who hold down the grounded, chill, communal vibes while staving off the douche factor with a mellow, down-to-earth orientation that comes with growing up in this here City of Angels.
“Yeah, we have the most amazing crew,” says Cinespia producer Veronica Miles, who grew up in Topanga Canyon. “Everyone who works the events is just so nice and hard-working and friendly. They are always happy to be here.”
And why wouldn’t they be? Their job is to create something lovely for their community in a sacred and beautiful setting, and get paid to watch classic movies in killer print condition under the stars.
“Wanna dance with me?” asks 8-year old Coco, twisting along to Elvis, bare feet delighting in the cool blades between her toes.
“Love to,” I beam, leaping to my feet, eager to join the impromptu dance party.
God bless the natives and summertime movie screenings in the graveyard.
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